Why have I been prescribed valproate?

Valproate is used as an anti-manic medicine in people with bipolar illness. It is also used to help reduce the number and degree of mood swings you experience, in particular the ‘highs’. You may wish to discuss this with your prescriber who will be able to give you more information.

Medication is just part of the management of this illness. Other therapies are also helpful; you may wish to discuss these with your prescriber.

What exactly is valproate?

In this instance, valproate is being used as an anti-manic or mood stabiliser. It is not a tranquilliser or sleeping tablet. It comes as both tablets and a liquid.
It is commonly prescribed as valproate semisodium which is licensed for the treatment of mania.

Is valproate safe to take?

It is usually safe to take as prescribed by your health professional, but like many medicines will not suit everyone. Let your prescriber know beforehand if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have a condition called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Any metabolic disorders, particularly hereditary enzyme deficiency disorders such as a urea cycle disorder because of a risk of increased ammonia level in the blood
  • Impaired kidney function
  • An increased appetite and putting on weight
  • Liver problems or a family history of liver problems
  • A known allergy to valproate
  • Porphyria (a rare metabolic condition)
  • Diabetes – the valproate may interfere in some tests
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding, or considering getting pregnant
  • On any prescribed medication or any medication from the pharmacy or any herbal remedies

Before starting, a series of blood tests will be carried out to make sure there are no significant problems with your blood, kidneys or heart. They will discuss the results with you.

A small number of people being treated with mood stabilisers such as valproate semisodium have had thoughts of harming or killing themselves. If at anytime you have these thoughts, immediately contact your key worker.

Information for women who are planning to get pregnant or who are of childbearing age

If you become pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant whilst taking valproate, you must tell your prescriber straight away. Valproate is known to increase the risk of giving birth to a child with an abnormality. It is recommended that women of childbearing age should use an effective form of contraception.

What is the usual dose of valproate?

The dose of valproate will depend on your weight and how you respond to the dose. The average dose is around 1500mg per day.

How should I take my valproate?

Follow the directions on the label. The tablets are normally taken twice daily. The tablets must be swallowed whole. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist, nurse or prescriber. You should also read the information leaflet supplied with the medication. You should keep the tablets in the original container in a dry place because they are sensitive to the moisture in the air.

What should I do if I miss a dose?

If you miss a dose and it is within a few hours of the normal time, continue to take it as normal. If it is longer, miss the dose and continue as normal when the next dose is due. Never double up on the dose. The tablets must be swallowed whole.

When I feel better, can I stop taking valproate?

You should always discuss this with your prescriber. They will review on a regular basis whether or not you will need to continue on the medication. If you do stop it, you may not necessarily become ill straight away it but will increase your risk of relapsing.

Is valproate addictive?

Current literature does not suggest that valproate is addictive.

What will happen to me when I start taking valproate?

Valproate does not work straight away. If it is being used to treat mania, you may notice some improvement after 5 to 7 days but it will normally take longer (up to several weeks) to see the full effect. If you are using it to help stabilise your mood swings, it will depend on how often your mood swings to tell if it is effective.

As with all medication, valproate does have side effects. You may well experience these before you start feeling the benefits. Most side effects are short lived and will pass with time. The following table contains some of the more common and more important side effects of valproate and what to do about them. It is not a complete list and not everyone will get all of those listed. Ask your pharmacist, nurse or prescriber if you are worried about anything else you notice that you think might be a side effect.

For details of the side effects table, please follow this link: Valproate

The prescriber will carry out regular blood tests to help ensure the safety of your treatment.

What about alcohol?

Ideally do not drink alcohol when taking this medication. This is because taking them together can make you drowsier, sometimes severely. There is no safe drink and drive limit when taking this medication. Once people have been taking this medication for some time, they may be able to take small amounts of alcohol; try a small amount in a safe environment and see how you feel. Ideally get someone else to tell you.

Useful information

talking-shop-leafletPlease click on the image to the left or follow this link to download a copy of our Valproate leaflet.